The “million march” that Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri (TUQ) had promised to launch on January 14, taking the capital by storm to rid Pakistan of its “inept” and “corrupt leadership” has occurred. The “million march”, may or may not comprise a million souls; depending on the view point of the observer. Pro-government as well as those opposition politicians feeling threatened by the ‘million march” are bent upon being myopic and perceive and propagate much fewer numbers. Neutral observers like this scribe and pro-change elements witness a sea of humanity, which may be close to a hundred thousand but more participants are still trickling in despite inclement weather, the numerous hurdles in reaching the venue like barring vehicles, innumerable security checkpoints and other harassment.
What is the TUQ phenomenon? Who is funding it? and what is the main objective of the “million march”? These are some of the questions, which have plagued analysts, potential supporters as well as detractors of TUQ.
First of all who is TUQ? According to Wikipedia, Mohammad Tahir ul-Qadri (born 19 February 1951) is a Pakistani Sufi scholar and former professor of international constitutional law at the University of the Punjab.TUQ founded a Sufism-based organization “Minhaj-ul-Quran International” in October 1981 and spent the next decade expanding it nationally and internationally. The goal of the organization is fairly broad, namely to promote religious moderation, effective and sound education, inter-faith dialogue and harmony, and a moderate interpretation of Islam employing methods of Sufism. Over the past 30 years, the organization has reportedly expanded to over 90 countries. During the March 2011 session the United Nations Economic and Social Council granted special consultative status to Qadri’s “Minhaj-ul-Quran International” perhaps because it is working in the fields of welfare, human rights and education and has established over 600 institutions where religion and modern sciences are taught in parallel. The product of these institutions has scored high grades in international universities, which is no mean achievement. The students have become ambassadors of goodwill promoting a moderate and non-extremist vision of Islam, the establishment of good relations and understanding between communities and religions. TUQ has also founded The Minhaj University of which he is the head of the Board of Governors, as well as an international relief charity, Minhaj Welfare Foundation, which has been at the forefront of relief and rehabilitation operations, whenever a calamity has struck Pakistan or elsewhere in the world.
TUQ has dabbled with politics in the past too. On May 25, 1989, he founded a political party: Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), which aims to introduce the culture of true democracy, economic stability, improve the state of human rights, justice and the women’s role in Pakistan. The PAT also aims to remove corruption from Pakistani politics. In 1990, he participated in the national election. From 1989 to 1993, TUQ continuously worked as an opposition leader. While he was elected as an MNA in 2002, but on 29 November 2004, TUQ announced his resignation as MNA and left for Canada, where he has been devoting time to managing the network of institutions and delivering religious lectures on moderation.
TUQ is an outstanding business manager too and the successful administration of his over 700 institutions bear testimonial to that. In January 2011, he addressed the World Economic Forum.
On 2 March 2010, Qadri issued a 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism, which is an “absolute” scholarly refutation of all terrorism without “any excuses or pretexts”, stating that “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it.” Since then, he has devoted much effort and time in devising ways and means of tackling terrorism, addressing international forums, lecturing at the media and organizing anti-terrorism meets have been lauded internationally.
Thus TUQ comes prepared, preaching a message of peace and pronouncing ways and means of eradicating terrorism. His sudden appearance and holding a highly successful rally at Lahore on December 23, 2012 and later at Karachi and now the “million march” has shaken the citadels of power at Islamabad. There are allegations that he is being funded by western powers. Although both the British and US senior diplomats have flatly denied providing financial support to TUQ, yet it is plausible that funding provided by TUQ’s successful educational organizations and donations from millions of his followers internationally may be enough to bear the expenses of his “million march”.
The crux of the “million march” is that middle class educated youth inclusive of boys and girls, marginalized and suffering millions of Pakistanis, beset with problems of power outages, double digit inflation, unbridled terrorist attacks, acute food shortage, topped with the consummate corruption of the leaders, who have forced the nation to be buckled under massive international debts, perceive TUQ to be the light at the end of the tunnel. He is judged to be moderate, educated, religious and a champion of the oppressed class, who may rid the people of their problems of the masses, who are at the moment barely surviving. TUQ also holds a promise for the Occident, being the visage of moderate and enlightened Islam capable of bringing the moderate Pakistanis to the forefront. The world is tired of the advent of terrorism and anyone who holds the promise of taking up the cudgels of eradicating it, would appear to be a “knight in shining armour”. The big question is whether his means are constitutional and ethical. Peaceful protest rallies are the right of every democratic society. So far TUQ’s means have been free of violence but forcing the abdication of the government under threats of violence is unconstitutional. The reasoning that desperate times call for desperate means may carry weight but violence is not the answer. His demands of a neutral caretaker government before the general elections, electoral reforms and the formation of an effective but neutral election commission are valid. Analysts are likening the movement to the Arab Spring; the difference being that the Arab fever was to topple totalitarian regimes. Here it is aimed at toppling a democratic regime, which may be corrupt but was elected democratically albeit with tampered and bogus electoral rolls. In the Arab Spring, mobs and masses were leaderless. TUQ is leading from the front and is the rallying point but if other likeminded forces do not join him, there is the danger of the movement fizzling out especially in light of the opposition parties as well as the government ganging up to save their interests. TUQ has burnt his boats and if he fails, he can never return to Pakistan’s political arena but with that the hopes of millions of Pakistanis aspiring for change and betterment, will also be extinguished. The haves will continue to prevail over the have-nots.